Making Justice RealThe Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
Preparing for Trial Requires More than “Lawyering”
Days after joining Legal Aid as a loaned associate, I received my first case assignment. Eager to dive head first into my new role as a housing attorney, I promptly reviewed the case file. I learned that I would be representing Ms. M – a mother of three young children whose landlord sought to evict her from her federally-subsidized home. I also learned that the case was set for a bench trial in a matter of weeks.
Ms. M had been wrongfully accused by her landlord of violating her lease. When confronted by the landlord with this allegation, Ms. M unknowingly signed an agreement to vacate her apartment. When Ms. M could not find an alternative home for her and her family, the landlord sued to evict her, and she came to Legal Aid for help.
When Ms. M’s folder landed on my desk, it became my job to prove that she should not be required to leave her apartment. To do so, I had to digest the facts and the law of Ms. M’s case; and I needed to fully understand Ms. M’s challenges in comprehending the written agreements her landlord presented to her. But perhaps most importantly, I had to earn Ms. M’s trust – as her attorney, and as her advisor. In the short time Ms. M and I worked together, I had to make decisions about the legal defenses to pursue, the witness testimony to elicit for the court, and the theme of Ms. M’s defense. It was essential that Ms. M have confidence in my ability to make these decisions; and confidence that my decisions were in her best interest.
Ultimately, Ms. M and her landlord agreed to a settlement in her case. Since settling her case, Ms. M, her boyfriend, and their three children found a new home, and are very happy there. Even better, Ms. M recently started a collegiate program that will enable her to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse.
Ms. M’s ability to trust me played an integral role in resolving this dispute, and in Ms. M’s happy ending.
Preparing for Ms. M’s trial so early in my time at Legal Aid, and in such a short timeframe, was as rewarding as it was challenging. The experience helped me to grow personally and professionally. I am privileged to have met Ms. M and her family, and I feel honored to have been her attorney.